Money, Now + Beyond

Bank Cafes won’t teach me what I need to know about finance

I need to know what a 401k is, not another place to buy coffee

Before I left to study abroad during my junior year, I was advised to set up a bank account in my visiting country. Given I had no knowledge of the English banking system, I decided to try an online, branch-less bank. Not being tied to a brick and mortar meant that I could use any ATM, make deposits via my phone, and generally not have to scramble to find a bank for some service. It was an ideal set-up and I later found once I flew home that it suited me wherever I was– be it in my college town, visiting friends in other cities, traveling, or moving to other states. I never had to worry about finding a local branch wherever I landed. Banking was wherever I had cell service or a WiFi connection.  Other banks soon caught up to the digital age and began offering all their services online.

This shift to the world wide web was mirrored in other industries as more and more of the buying experience was moved online. We went from window shopping to screen swiping. Eyeglasses, electronics, and everything you had to buy in person could be ordered and shipped. All this was spurred on by Amazon and the resulting addiction of two-day shipping. The consumer became comfortable trusting their credit card information to password-protected websites. Whereas once you’d only slide a banker your sensitive information on the appropriate form, you could now punch it into anything with a keyboard. 

But the brick and mortar won’t go quietly into a future of seasonal pop-ups and plywood walls. Banking, in particular, is cementing its belief that some business has to be done in person. Instead of downsizing, Capital One is upscaling from the standard teller window set-up to Cafes. 

The Capital One Cafe will replace select branches in California, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Oregon. Instead of vaults and teller windows, the spaces have been transformed into something apparently everyone needs— another place to get coffee. These Cafes will, of course, offer banking services on premises, but there will also be a plethora of non-money related offerings to savor. Capital One is keen to have these Cafes appear as “inviting places where you can bank, plan your financial journey, engage with your community, and enjoy Peet’s Coffee®.” Along with coffee, locations will have local snacks, free wifi, power outlets… basically everything you need to finally write that novel. Cafes will also feature a community room that’s free for registered nonprofits as well as alumni and student groups to use. In addition, there’s a calendar that boasts events on Cake Day (July 20th), Self Care Day (July 24th), and National Refreshment Day (July 25). 

Clearly, Capital One is invested in you, but I don’t need one more person reminding me to moisturize. I need help understanding which credit card to open. These Cafes seem distracted by the idea that their younger clientele (read: millennial) love a good space. And I do. I’m a sucker for a low chair and natural lighting. But that doesn’t change the fact that my financial literacy is fairly low. What banks need to realize (and not mock or make fun of) is that what I was taught in the 5th grade— writing checks and using cursive— did not prepare me for the realities of financial independence. I joke and say #adulting is hard, but honestly, it is. I managed to figure out direct deposits and credit scores via Google, but the hill only gets steeper. What’s a mortgage? A Roth IRA?

One of the elements these Cafes seems to get is that their younger customer base wants to genuinely drink coffee learn more about banking. Each Cafe will have “ambassadors” (which seems to be a fancy word for bank teller) as well as “money coaches” on staff. These “certified life coaches are trained to help you connect your finances to your goals and dreams.” Sound like the perfect person to ask about credit unions, but it is important to note that they are “not financial advisors, or accountants, or tax specialists. Materials have been prepared by Capital One for instructional and educational purposes ONLY.” So I won’t buy stocks based on these coaches advise, but it seems like the role is geared towards making banking more accessible and understandable, which I guess is a start.